Thunder rolls over Pelicans

Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- For the Oklahoma City Thunder, sometimes it all happens in the blink of an eye.
In their 109-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night -- the Thunder's ninth win in 10 games and ninth consecutive win over New Orleans -- the catalyst was Oklahoma City's microwave offense and lock-down defense in the second half.
With both teams trading baskets late in the first half, New Orleans guard Tyreke Evans fired a bullet pass into the stands on a fast-break opportunity that would have broken a tie game. But the Pelicans' ninth turnover of the half instantly turned deadly.
Sensing a chance to get two quick possessions in the final 34 seconds, guard Russell Westbrook nailed a 3-pointer with 29 seconds left in the first half, and guard Reggie Jackson followed up with a 3-pointer from the left wing 2.0 seconds before halftime to open a 58-52 lead.
When forward Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to open the second half, suddenly it was 61-52, and the Thunder (14-4) were off and running.
"That was huge," said Durant, who scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the first half. "We practice that all the time -- finishing up those two-for-one opportunities. Russ did a great job of getting his guy on his heels and knocking down huge shots, and Reggie was sitting there wide open and made a big shot as well. That pushed our momentum up a little bit."
Westbrook added 25 points, which included a 35-foot heave in the first half that barely beat the 24-second shot clock and prompted Westbrook to unveil his trademark gunslinger pose.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks agreed that the offensive sequence ending the first half and beginning the second was critical.
"Those are shots we can make," Brooks said. "We started off the year slowly from the 3-point line, but I think as the season's gone along, we've shot the ball much better from 3."
An even bigger key was the Thunder's defense, which clamped down on forward Ryan Anderson, normally a lethal 3-point shooter, who missed 12 of 17 shots but still finished with a team-high 18 points. Overall, the Pelicans shot 15 of 48 (31.3 percent) in a 43-point second half.
"I hate to say we didn't play well, (but) we just missed so many shots in the paint tonight, and I thought it messed with us," New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "We typically finish well around the basket. (There were) a lot of misses around the basket."
The Thunder led 85-76 with 8:38 left when reserve guard Derek Fisher hit a 3-pointer from the left wing and was fouled by guard Austin Rivers. Fisher converted the free throw for a four-point play, stretching the lead to 89-76.
The victory gave Oklahoma City a 2-1 road trip and sets up a huge early-season home game Sunday against the surging 17-2 Indiana Pacers.
"We just have to come out and do what we did (tonight)," Durant said about facing the Eastern Conference leaders. "We have to think defense first and think about playing together and playing hard. At the end of the day, it's fun. We've got to go out there and play. We need to play fun, play loose, but at the same time be focused and locked in."
The Pelicans (9-10) lost their second consecutive home game without injured forward Anthony Davis (broken finger on his left hand), and they got more bad news on the injury front. Evans, who scored 11 points in 13 minutes and has been a powerful penetrator, went down awkwardly on his left ankle -- the same ankle he sprained in the preseason -- after a layup attempt and had to be assisted to the locker room.
The Thunder shot 50.6 percent from the field and held the Pelicans to 37.5 percent shooting. Forward Serge Ibaka had 17 points and 13 rebounds for Oklahoma City.
Leading 58-52 at the half, the Thunder broke open the game with a 22-13 run over 10:25 of the third quarter to take an 80-65 lead. The Pelicans shot just 23 percent from the field in the quarter (six of 26) and scored just 16 points.
NOTES: Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he and his wife, Ingrid, were "really messed up" over the news of Nelson Mandela's death. Williams thought he might get to meet the former South African president three years ago, but an NBA-sponsored trip during the summer was canceled at the last minute because of Mandela's precarious health. "I was about as giddy as I've ever been about meeting anyone, but I didn't get a chance to do it," Williams said. "He's somebody that I not only look up to but somebody I strive to be like. We've just lost someone in our society we probably will never replace. It's amazing how they talked about him over there. They looked at him like he's the father of not just South Africa, but Africa in general." ... Thunder G Russell Westbrook missed the Friday shootaround because of sickness, but he started the game. ... Williams was still beaming about SF Al-Farouq Aminu's 20-rebound effort against Dallas on Wednesday. "Twenty rebounds in a game for a small forward is unique," Williams said. ... Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whose team was averaging 103.7 ppg entering Friday, said playing fast fits the OKC style, "but good shots are more important. Quick shots aren't good unless they're good shots. We want to play fast, but we feel we can play a different style of basketball depending on what the time and the game needs."

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